In our republic, people are the source of our sovereign power. The people must therefore understand the philosophical foundations and the principles of liberty as well as their responsibility to protect them. Failure to do so will preempt the ability to preserve over time the greatness of America and the freedom of its people.
America’s Founders believed liberty was too precious to trust to leaders or rulers. In 1787 American people themselves wrote the Constitution, a document of laws and people, not rulers. It protects from the harmful acts of other citizens; more importantly, it protects us all from our own government. The framers recognized that governments can be imperfect and often abuse power.
People seeking the blessings guaranteed by God enshrined those beliefs in a document that was written expressly for the people. This document was the foundation of the founders first principles which are based on the concept of a government of laws, not of rulers.
The government-citizen relationship has never been a mystery, but was quite obviously delineated in the text of the Declaration of Independence. The words which stated in clear terms that;
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their power from the consent of the governed,….”
In 1776, when the colonies revolted against the tyranny of English rule, it was as much a culmination of revolutionary political thought as it was a revolution. The Declaration of Independence, the first formally adopted political document set up a radical foundation for a free society. Power and authority that source from God are granted to the people, governed by the consent of those people. This is a clear acceptance of the philosophical concept that supreme law comes from God.
The Founders’ plan was to set up a government to protect those rights. Since unalienable rights were understood to belong to the people, the people would grant to government only those rights and powers they were willing for government to have. Government therefore is the servant of the people. Government was now to be administered through laws made by the people themselves. This is the Rule of Law as opposed to centuries of Rulers’ Law.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence, and later the framers of the Constitution in 1787, are not original principles, but the synthesis of a history of political thought. They stood on the shoulders of giants and drew on political principles and institutions which had evolved through the minds of great thinkers since the time of creation. They knew the Magna Carta, English constitutional tradition, The Mayflower Compact, colonial charters and “charter rights”. These were men who had classical educations. They studied, sifted, and debated the great ideas of the past. From this they accepted certain basic principles which came to be known, collectively, as First Principles. Never before in the history of democracy had such principles been synthesized as a basis for a government providing order and justice yet protecting the people’s liberty.
With these First Principles in mind, our Founding Fathers in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia produced the United States Constitution. This Constitution was not designed just for an 18th century agrarian society, but rather based on understanding the nature of man and driven by a philosophy and set of principles essential to liberty for any society at any time. The real threat to our country does not come from abroad but from within. First Principles are not exhaustive though intended to be as extensive as possible.
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams
“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” –Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention of 1787
“For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.” – Alexander Hamilton in 1787 after the Constitutional Convention
“Tis done. We have become a nation.”
(Benjamin Rush 1788) At the ratification of the United States Constitution.